What is inbound marketing?

What is inbound marketing? Image of a dart hitting a dartboard.

‘Inbound marketing’ is all the rage these days, and with its promise of potential customers coming to you rather than you having to go out and grab leads’ attention, it’s obvious why business owners are so interested in the idea.

But what exactly is inbound marketing, and how do you go about creating an inbound marketing campaign?

Simply put, inbound marketing is a way to pull people to your business, rather than relying on advertising spend or PR to push potential customers towards it. It typically revolves around the web, and involves three key steps:

  1.  Getting found (i.e., attracting traffic to your website)
  2. Converting visitors to leads (capturing data and generating sales)
  3. Analysing (looking at site stats and sales data to improve steps one and two).

Let’s look at each step in more detail.

1. Getting found

Getting found boils down to

  • what content is on your site
  • how it is presented from a search engine optimisation point of view
  • how easy it is for readers to share it.

Content

Content is the most important aspect of an inbound marketing strategy: your website needs to contain a reasonable number of high-quality, informative pages on it. This ensures that you have keywords on your site that can be indexed by search engines, along with interesting content that you can promote and your site visitors can share. 

But before you start creating content, you need a strategy: you need to take what people are actually searching for into account before publishing a single page or post. You can do this by using a variety of keyword research tools such as Moz's keyword explorer or Serps to compare volumes of particular searches against each other.

Say you are thinking of starting a pie recipe site in the UK. You might find using a keyword research tool that a lot more people are searching for ‘English pie recipes’ over ‘British pie recipes’ - and as such may wish to optimise your content accordingly. However, if there are lots of posts already in existence which use the more popular phrase, it may be worth plumping for the less popular and more ‘niche’ one – so long as you are confident that you can dominate results for that particular phrase. The trick is to find target keywords that are capable of driving significant numbers of visitors and which you can realistically rank for.

Once you've got your target keywords sorted, you now need to focus on the 'quality' side of things. If a potential client arrives at a page full of nonsense, they’re not going to take your business very seriously - no matter how many keywords you've stuffed into it. They’re not going to share the content and they are not going to create links to it on their site – which, as I’ll explain below, are vital aspects of an inbound marketing campaign.

The best strategy when it comes to content is to blog – but to do so in a really informative way. This does not mean blogging about your business, but rather your business area. For example, if you run a cocktail bar, you might consider posting blog items about how to make classic cocktails. If you are a web designer, you could blog about your favourite tools for building websites, or provide CSS tips and tricks. These kinds of posts are genuinely useful and answer real questions that people might have about the area that you work in. They are likely to garner Facebook likes or Twitter shares, or be linked to on other websites – all of which drives more traffic to the original post. And lo, your inbound marketing strategy beings to take shape.

Search engine optimisation

To give your content a boost, you should make sure that it is presented in the easiest way for search engines to understand.

This means that you need to

  • use page titles and H1 tags that explain precisely what your content is about
  • use meta descriptions which summarise the page / article content in an accurate and engaging way
  • include keywords in your site’s URLs – for example, if you’re writing a blog post about cocktails, it would be better to use a page URL of www.mysite.com/cocktails over www.mysite.com/?page=sakhkxas123.php
  • use anchor text in links (either on your own site or others) which is relevant to the content – i.e., rather than simply using a big long URL like ‘www.mysite.com/cocktail-recipe-blog-post’ as a link to a cocktail recipe, you should use the words ‘cocktail recipe’ and put the link behind that.

For a few more SEO tips, you might like to check out our guide to making your site more visible in Google.

Making it easy to let people share content

A crucial part of an inbound marketing strategy is to ensure that people can share your content really easily. The more likes and tweets of your content that you get, the more inbound visitors you will attract to your site.

To this end you should ensure that social media share buttons are highly visible on your site, and that visitors are actively encouraged to use them. Tools like Addthis are invaluable in this regard, providing you with lots of sharing icons and analytics tools that you can make use of simply by adding a few lines of HTML to your site.

Additionally, you should actively encourage users to create backlinks to your content on their own blogs or websites (a little ‘feel free to create a link to this on your site’ plea at the bottom of posts can help with this). In general, every backlink you have to your content usually serves as a vote for your site in search results (with the important caveat that certain backlinks – for example those created through spammy backlink creation services – may actually hurt your position in search...avoid them!). 

2. Converting visitors to leads

Once you’ve attracted visitors to your website through content, SEO or shares, it’s time to turn them into leads, and that means capturing their details. Most visitors are not going to buy your products or services the moment they rock up to your website – but, assuming they are impressed enough by the content that got them there in the first place, they are quite likely to be open to submitting an email address in exchange for a promise of similarly interesting content in future. And with that email address comes the opportunity to forge a relationship with your lead, showcase products and services and ultimately gain some business. Even if you don’t generate any business directly from that lead, they may nonetheless help your inbound marketing cause by sharing some of the content which you send them via e-newsletter.

As such, your blog or website should always place a large emphasis on data capture, and you should always:

  • make it extremely easy for people to sign up to your mailing list – place a form on the side of key pages and at the bottom of any posts
  •  ‘incentivise’ data capture by offering free resources / product trials etc. in exchange for an email address (i.e., don't just use a bland 'join our mailing list' statement).

Some potential customers may not wish to submit an email address, but might feel more comfortable with following you on social media and getting links to your content that way. As such, ensure that you have ‘follow’ buttons clearly visible on your site. Again, Addthis can help with this.

Finally, on the subject of data capture it’s a good idea to think about using autoresponders to automate some of your e-marketing.  Autoresponders are e-newsletters that are automatically sent to your mailing list subscribers at pre-defined intervals after they sign up – you can set them up so that the second somebody signs up to your list, they receive a simple welcome message; a week later they could receive links to some interesting articles they might have missed; three weeks later they could receive an encouragement to follow you on social media. The point is that you can automate your e-marketing in a way which ultimately helps you to generate more inbound traffic - without you having to constantly send out e-newsletters manually.

(On the subject of e-newsletters and autoresponders, you may find our Getresponse vs Aweber and Mad Mimi vs Mailchimp comparison reviews handy).

3. Analysing

The final stage of an inbound marketing campaign is the analysis: you need to crunch the numbers, find out what’s working well (or not) and use this information to refine or improve the whole process.

There are two key tools which should always be a part of this: Google Analytics and Google Search Console. Both will give you a picture of the kind of content that is being read on your site, and the kind of keywords that are driving traffic to it. In addition, by registering your site with Google Search Console you are placing yourself firmly on Google’s radar – doing this helps Google crawl your site in the most comprehensive manner possible; and if you enter all your site details correctly you are giving its algorithms the most accurate picture possible of your website, thus helping it to serve the most relevant search results from it.

In addition to the above, you will be able to use other analytics tools – for example, your e-newsletter reports and, assuming you’ve added one to your site, stats from sharing services (such as Addthis) – to hone in on popular content. By identifying the blog posts or site pages that are attracting large numbers of visitors, you can drill down into the reasons why – and write articles on similar topics or structure new articles in a similar way.

Some top tips for creating a successful inbound marketing strategy

  • Carry out keyword research to ensure that your content is going to be focussed on searches that people are actually making - and ones that you can rank for.
  • Blog regularly. Not only will this make your site more keyword rich, it will help it be taken more seriously by Google’s search algorithms (which factor in frequency of updates when determining where to plonk your site in search results).
  • Create quality blog posts. Don’t pack your site full of keyword-rich but ultimately useless drivel – it won’t impress anyone (Google included).
  • Create backlinks where possible. Ask clients, colleagues and friends who run websites or blogs to provide you with a backlink (but avoid spammy link-building services).
  • Get on Google’s radar: register with Google Search Console and swot up on what Google actually recommend you do from an SEO perspective.
  • Use Addthis or a similar service to make it easy for people to share your content.
  • Always make it easy for people who visit your site to sign up to your mailing list (and encourage them to do so by offering interesting content/features/tools in exchange for their details).
  • Analyse your site, e-newsletter and social media statistics regularly to see which content is driving the most traffic to your site, and adjust / refine your content strategy based on this information.

See also

We recently put together an inbound marketing infographic, which aims to demystify the topic and spell out some of the key steps you need to take to create a successful inbound marketing campaign.

Got any thoughts on inbound marketing?

If you've got any thoughts on inbound marketing, or have run inbound marketing campaigns in the past, do feel free to leave your thoughts, queries and tips of your own in the comments section below :)